As we begin planning for our 2019 conference in Kodiak, take a moment to read the following article written by Amanda Lancaster, a recipient of a scholarship funded by the Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund to attend Museums Alaska's annual conference, held in Nome in 2018.
As not only a new Alaskan, but also a relatively new museum professional, I was most looking forward to the Museums Alaska conference as a way to finally put faces to names of people I had been speaking with for over a year. I was excited to meet people that loved working in museums, archives, and other cultural institutions as much as I love working in museums. It seemed fitting that the theme of the conference was Relationships. I was also eager to see Nome, a landscape so different from any I’d seen before.
Museums in Alaska face unique challenges from those in the Lower 48, and so meeting with, and discussing common problems, was indispensable for me. It was reassuring to meet others that share similar struggles—when museum supplies cost as much to ship to Alaska as purchase, when the HVAC contractor has to fly in for a service appointment!
The sessions, having the common theme of relationships, were very useful, as the Alutiiq Museum is purposefully trying to broaden its community support beyond our core circle of patrons. I strongly believe that in order for museums to survive in the future, they must engage more with the public and highlight history from below, an argument made by Dr. Lorraine McConaghy in her keynote address at the conference.
Community conversations were a prominent theme across the conference, most especially in the Pre-Conference workshop, “Collections as Springboards for Community Conversations.” This workshop illustrated how well-situated museums are for making space for dialogue in the community, and facilitating what can be difficult conversations about community-wide issues.
I have attended academic conference before, but this was my first professional museum conference, and it was immensely beneficial. The conference had a very open, friendly feel, and the town of Nome was a wonderful host. It gave me the chance to meet people that I might not have, and I was able to visit a part of the state which would usually be out of reach. The Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund is a resource to which new museum professionals in Alaska are lucky to have access. After having met so many colleagues from across the state, I feel much more comfortable reaching out for advice about any concerns I have, and I look forward to next year’s conference in Kodiak. I look forward to showing people around my museum and Alaskan town.
As a first-time conference attendee and recent transplant to Alaska from Washington State, it was valuable to meet many fellow museum professionals in Alaska. The conference theme relationships especially resonated with me and I was surprised to see so many session conference presentations demonstrating the collaboration between a tight-knit group of Alaska institutions. For example, Bethany Buckingham Follett and Selena Ortega-Chiolero working together to host the Old Town Autumn Fest in Wasilla and demonstrating how museums and other non-profits can work together, Exhibit AK and Anjuli Grantham leading an exhibit label workshop, NPS, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and Conservator Nicole Peters working together to preserve the Richard L. Proenneke Cabin site. The most valuable takeaway for me from the conference was learning from these partnership presentations and developing a support network as we move forward with projects and ideas in Kodiak.
I found the relationship between museum professionals and researchers at the conference especially unique. With so many joint presentations among Museum Alaska members, it is surprising to see fewer joint presentations with both the Museums Alaska and Alaska Historical society members. I brought this observation up in the post-conference webinar chat and thought Anjuli Grantham had an insightful response. She suggested bridging the gap between researchers and museum professionals through public history. I look forward to researching more about public history projects around Alaska and learning more about this field.
We are excited to be able to host the Museums Alaska/Alaska Historical Society conference next year in Kodiak. In the coming months of planning, I think it will be valuable to cultivate a workshop or session that encourages dialog between museum professionals and researchers or perhaps highlight public history projects so we can better understand each other’s work. I look forward to seeing everyone together again at the conference next September.
Eleven of Alaska’s collecting institutions, in seven communities from Ketchikan to Fairbanks, have been awarded $125,340 in grants. The awards will support the acquisition of artwork and collections care projects through two separate funds. The funds were created by Rasmuson Foundation and they are administered by Museums Alaska.
The Art Acquisition Fund invites museums and culture centers to submit proposals to purchase recent works by contemporary Alaskan artists. Now in its sixteenth year, this initiative has helped institutions across Alaska enhance their collections, interpret contemporary themes, and support hundreds of visual artists. This fall, eight museums received a total of $86,975 in grants to purchase 29 pieces of artwork from 18 Alaskan artists—including paintings, carvings, photographs, multi-media works, and sculpture.
This year, the Art Acquisition Fund allowed applicants to propose commissioned works. The Kodiak Historical Society and the Sealaska Heritage Institute are the first organizations to successfully receive grant support for commissioned works. The Kodiak Historical Society and will collaborate with Alutiiq mask maker Perry Eaton on an outdoor installation, and Sealaska Heritage Institute will work with Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson who will create a carved and painted wood hat.
Established in 2013, the Collections Management Fund supports projects that advance the preservation of museum collections with awards of up to $15,000. The fund provides critical support for the care of objects documenting Alaska’s cultural and natural heritage. In November, Museums Alaska selected five institutions to receive a total of $38,322 in grants. The funded projects include caring for raptor specimens, conserving gut skin artifacts, digitizing media collections, completing diorama maintenance, and modernizing HVAC controls.
Both funds will offer additional grants in 2019. For eligibility information, application deadlines, and submission directions, please visit the Museums Alaska website Grants page.
Museums Alaska is a statewide professional organization supporting Alaska’s collecting institutions and their staff members and volunteers. The non-profit organization supports the improvement of museum services and promotes public awareness of the value of the state’s museums and culture centers. A nine-member volunteer board governs Museums Alaska with funding from memberships, grants, gifts, and sales.
Alaska Aviation Museum
Janine Gibbons A set of six paintings: Jorgy Jorgensen, Bill English, Ellen Evak Paneok, Herman Nicolet, Wilfred Ryan and Todd’s Air Service: Ed and Helen Todd $7,800
Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository
Cheryl Lacy Misty Morning $1,000
Anchorage Museum Association
Sonya Kelliher-Combs Red Curl $12,000
Alanna DeRocchi Stay A Float, Animals as Object $4,000
Polar Bear, Objects for Contemplating Impermanence $2,225
Amber Webb White Qaspeq $5,000
Tresham Gregg Eagle Hammer $800
Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center
Jim Heaton Carved Eagle Shakee.at and Bear Paw Dance Rattle $8,000
Kodiak Historical Society
Carol Lambert Basket Not For Sale $600
Perry Eaton Island Song $24,000
Sealaska Heritage Institute
Nathan Jackson Raven Hat $10,000
Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, Inc.
Donna Catotti Blues Harp and Paradise Cove—Remnants of the Past $1,550
Lindsay Johnson Still Ocean Bright $300
Debi Knight Kennedy Love and Justice $5,000
Beverly Schupp Chilkat River Valley Winter and Jack Strong at the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center $2,200
Katie Craney Forgotten Places $700
Megan Morehouse Salmon Tree $500
Andrea Nelson Chilkat Sampler $750
Joe Ordóñez Moon Over the Headwaters and Cathedral Peaks $550
Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository—$14,981 for HVAC Repair
American Bald Eagle Foundation—$1,910.21 for Raptor Collection Protection
Ketchikan Museums—$9,881.25 for Digitizing Media Project
Kodiak Historical Society—$1,350.00 for Conservation and Education of Seal Intestine Windows
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center—$10,200.00 for Diorama Maintenance & Training
2018 Grant Press Release (PDF)
Museums Alaska is committed to supporting Alaska's museums and recognizes this may be a challenging time for some after today's earthquake in southcentral Alaska.
Our Board President, Molly Conley, has shared this message with the Alaska museum community: "I personally have a background in museum disaster planning and know others in the state who have this experience as well. I am happy to offer my knowledge and expertise in this area to any institution that may need help. Also as the president of Museums Alaska I will be working with my board to see if there's anything we can do as an organization to provide assistance."
Please don't hesitate to reach out to our Executive Director or any of our Board members directly.
Museums Alaska’s new logo, 2018, designed by Emily Longbrake
Museums Alaska is excited to announce a new logo that symbolizes our institutional values and future direction of our organization.
We are inspired by our members to “think outside the vitrine” in the sense that museums are much more than exhibits, as educational hubs, home to incredible artifacts, and spaces for reflection and ongoing learning. As a symbol of our membership organization, the logo demonstrates how multiple parts can come together to form a whole. Just as the components of a stained glass window or patchwork quilt rely on each other to maintain structure, the new logo illustrates how Museums Alaska strives to create a strong foundation for an inclusive environment for Alaska's museum professionals and organizations to come together.
The Board of Directors is proud to present a new logo inspired by the unique connections and innovation shared among Alaska's Museums. The new logo illustrates how much Museums Alaska, as a statewide organization, continues to grow and adapt to meet the needs of the Alaska museum community and their visitors.
Museum’s Alaska’s first logo, developed ca. 1984 by Wanda Chin
This article was written by 2017 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund scholarship recipient Sarah Harrington.
The Museums Alaska/Alaska Historical Society Conference brings together all kinds of passionate professionals to connect, inspire, and transform skillsets and experiences across our great state. Writers, curators, educators, store managers, researchers, gallery hosts, board members, and beyond, the conference has plenty to offer for any interest or application.
If you’re not sure that the conference is worth the time, the cost, the effort, here are three reasons why you’re out of your gourd not to join us in 2018:
Attendees come year after year, knowing that they will leave the conference rejuvenated with an expanded network of colleagues and exciting new ideas to bring home. The conference doubles as a fun getaway focused on personal passions just as much as professional development for many.
The bottom line is that the Museums Alaska/Alaska Historical Society Conference is not to be missed.
Click here to join us for the 2018 Museums Alaska/Alaska Historical Society in Nome, Alaska!
We’re just a few months away from the 2018 conference! Take a moment to reflect on last year’s conference with this article by 2017 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund conference scholarship recipient Brooke Johnson.
I made it to the Cordova Mud Hole Smith airport the afternoon of Wednesday, September 27th. I knew that I was unable to attend any of the Museums Alaska Pre-Conference Workshops due to work restraints of being the Cultural Director with a museum staff of one, but I was excited about the ability to attend the rest of the conference. September marked the second anniversary of being in my position, a place that I am still unsure of in the museum world. With no formal museum training, I look to conferences such as this one, and workshops to help fill out my on the job training.
Thursday morning, I made my way to conference, after a bit of a drive from my family’s home, with whom I was staying. Still feeling new to the museum world, and very shy with new people, I sat at a table and watched as people filed in to start the day. I was thankful for those whom I met previously, and still in a bit of shock with all of those who were new faces to me.
The first conference session I made it to was Museum Cleaning Basics, which took me a few minutes to find the well-hidden room. The session covered a lot of museum cleaning information, regarding a lot of different materials we find in our museums. In my cultural center, we house everything from photographs to awls to totems to bones, and many times how things are put together can cause care issues to objects we are trying to keep safe for years. This conference session covered many of the topics in overview that the Collection Care Workshop that Seward put on last winter did, and it was helpful for me to have a refresher as I move into my first cleaning season. I was not aware previously of how to properly clean our objects, and without that knowledge, I didn’t want to use materials that would hurt our collection.
With the information that Museums Alaska helps put forth through the conference, I have been able to create a plan of how to create a cleaning plan for our space, and safely create storage containers to house our objects in storage. Conservation being upmost on my mind, I was able to attend the Conservation on the Move conference session on Friday, and I was really interested on some of the gut parka work that the Anchorage Museum did on the pieces that recently went on display. This summer our museum was long term loaned a gut parka from our regional corporation that was recently repatriated. This parka is damaged by age and storage, but we are looking how we can possibly restore and properly showcase an item that was so important to our people. I was fascinated to see how other museum deal with similar objects, and to connect with people who may be able to help us solve some of our museum’s issues. It was wonderful to see and hear that I am not the only museum with one full time staff, or the only one that needs help with cleaning and storage knowledge. I am thankful for the support that we have available. Quwanacuk.
This article was written by 2017 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund conference scholarship recipient Tara Taro.
As a first-time attendee of a professional development conference like the Annual Conference held by Museums Alaska and Alaska Historical Society, I expected to attend many conference sessions focused on how museums function, why they are important, and new techniques to keep a museum functioning satisfactorily. While I did attend a conference workshop and many conference sessions covering these concepts, what I did not expect was the overwhelming amount of active researchers getting the opportunity to present their current focus at the conference. The ability to have a platform to discuss research topics and collaborate with other researchers or museum professionals is crucial to maintaining the gathering of knowledge about our world. I felt a sense of that great Alaskan pride seeing the support for these researchers and the opportunity for them to seek help and encouragement from their peers.
On Thursday morning, I wandered into the auditorium for a conference session titled, Frontier Trailblazers, the first Alaska Historical Society session I had attended. It was so refreshing to witness researchers being able to talk freely through their findings, ask help from peers in the area, and generally, get a moment to feel proud of the work they have already accomplished, even if there is more information to gather (and let’s face it, there is always more information to gather). As Alaskans, isolated from the rest of the United States, it can sometimes be difficult to even begin researching a topic. This was widely evident when speaker Pat Garrett of McCarthy came to the podium to discuss her research on the infamous Kate Kennedy. It was obvious that not only was Pat passionate about her study of Kate but that she also had gathered a wealth of information on her, being able to chart a good portion of her life and experiences. Then a surprise I was not expecting came. Pat revealed that the majority of her research came primarily from hand-searching through archival materials as she did not have electricity or internet at her house at the time she began this project. In this day and age, the internet and databases streamline the tedious process of collecting evidence for research. Pat did not have those processes at her disposal and yet she has tracked Kate’s life to the extent that those in the audience felt as though they knew her. At least, I felt I did. I cannot wait to see what Pat discovers now with her newly installed electricity at her house. The limits are boundless.
This conference allowed us to get a glimpse into some of these research topics, people, and events that are being explored today and conference attendees were encouraged to keep these topics, people, and events in mind while scouring their own archives. And that, I personally believe, is the best outcome this conference can bring to this community – the ability to have statewide collaboration, cooperation, and support.
This article was written by 2017 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund conference scholarship recipient Katelyn Dickerson.
The 2017 Museums Alaska Conference held in Anchorage revolved around the central them of social discourse in public institutions. Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site senior vice president, Sean Kelly, explored this idea in his conference keynote address and break-off session. The question of advocacy versus neutrality is not which is better; it is what do these ideas mean and how do we employ them? How do we, as institutions, properly advocate for an idea while still remaining comprehensive, respected, educational organizations? Neutrality is a contradiction within itself. As long as exhibits are human-made, the inherent bias of man will be present.
In the conference sessions I attended regarding advocacy, the overwhelming sentiment was that museums should be advocates. Despite this consensus among the attending museum representatives, it was also clear that it was much easier said than done. Conference attendees were at a bit of a loss as to how to take on controversial topics within the unique Alaskan landscape. Museums in Alaskan communities struggle with the isolation and community pressures associated with living in small, close-knit, often politically-divided towns. The conference break-off session facilitated by Kelly on Saturday afternoon highlighted the shared apprehension surrounding controversial topics within museums and why that might look different in Alaska.
Kelly had the group use an anonymous text-in program to survey the conference break-off session participants. As a whole, we found that the professionals in the conference room were primarily left-leaning, while we saw our communities and boards were much more diverse, if not right-leaning. This discord in itself is an issue echoed across the museum community and pulls into question adequate reflection of museum visitors, particularly socio, political, and economic diversity in staff. How do we make up for the fact that often-times like-minded individuals are creating ideas for the public? Naturally the first step is to acknowledge this disconnect and be aware of potential personal and institutional biases. Awareness leads to educated exhibits and an institutional honesty. If we are honest with ourselves about personal and institutional biases our interpretation will likewise be honest to our audience.
A word cloud made with words professionals in the conference break-off session felt best decribed how they feel after the session regarding controversial subjects.
Making the conscious, institutional change to advocacy as opposed to neutrality is difficult and can seem overwhelming. Several institutions at the conference including the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site and the Juneau Douglas City Museum found that highlighting particular artists who made social statements within their artwork, was a more passive way of advocating. The artist took a position, but the institution chose the artist; although the focus of the audience is on the artist the statement is in reality a joint collaboration with the institution.
As museum professionals push their institutions and their audiences to re-understand museums as living, educational centers who have an active role in present day conversations, the professional community must likewise strive for open communication and support. The 2017 Museums Alaska Conference identified this burgeoning role of museums and gave Alaskan professionals the platform to discuss the realities of advocacy in a changing world.
As we enter our 2018 conference planning season, take a moment to read this guest post from Museums Alaska member and 2017 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund conference scholarship recipient Rachelle Bonnett.
The theme of social discourse and a museum’s role in moderating important and often controversial conversations within our communities is something we have all thought of at one point or another, but this conference allowed all of us to work through these ideas with a fine-toothed comb. Many of the conference sessions I attended touched on the subject of advocacy in some way and while each of them had a different topic of discussion, I picked out the relevant bits that help me see a clear path to make a difference at a local level.
The first conference session I went to presented ideas on how organizations can best achieve goals by collectively working together with other organizations in the area. The conference presenters pointed out that since museums are a reflection of the community, the question we must always ask ourselves is: how can we take community issues and be a place to help and inform, to better the people we serve? This conference session reinforced the idea that we shouldn’t be competing with each other, instead we should be working together through partnerships. When forming these partnerships, we should consider the following:
1. What are our resources?
2. What are our priorities?
3. What are the resources our prospective partners can offer?
4. What are their priorities?
5. How can we help each other achieve goals?
During another conference session, Sean Kelley from Eastern State Penitentiary gave us all inspiration to educate and engage our communities in discussion on difficult topics. After unveiling and dissecting all the possible barriers preventing us from advocating, he encouraged us to avoid being neutral and to not be afraid to take risks with exhibits and programming. He provided us with seven lessons he’s learned regarding advocacy vs. neutrality in museums:
1. It’s not about you, it’s about the visitors – meet them where they are
2. Decide if you are trying to:
a. deepen conversation among existing advocates or
b. connect with visitors who aren’t currently concerned about the issue (choose this one)
3. Don’t tell visitors you’re advocating
4. Don’t focus on language
5. Data can help sway internal stakeholders
6. Front line staff have good reason to worry
7. The sky isn’t going to fall
During a conference session discussion on Saturday, many of us spoke about our experiences bringing controversial issues to light through exhibitions at our institutions. At this point, with the echoing of advocacy in museum exhibits and programming throughout the conference, this final session seemed to tie everything together. Many of us noted that because our respective museums are funded through state or municipal government, the ability of controversial issues to be a central part of programming is somewhat limited.
However, one conference session attendee pointed out that one possible way to work around this road-block is by hosting monthly rotating exhibits. While not all artists make work about difficult subjects related to issues affecting the local community or community-at-large, some of them do. She referenced a small exhibit at the Anchorage Museum, curated by artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs, as an example of how artists can be the catalyst for bringing these issues to light in a way that isn’t coming directly from the host institution. In this exhibit, Sonya took traditional objects from a handful of Alaska Native culture groups and used them to confront contemporary issues of alcoholism, suicide, and abuse. By offering a space for artists to exhibit, we can better allow those in our community to engage in controversial and difficult subject matter in a safe space.
I left the conference thinking differently about the role that museums and local nonprofits play in engaging our communities in issues that affect us all, empowered by the experience of others. After returning to Juneau, I was asked what I took away from the conference. I would respond with a short summary, reciting the following major points: “We should work collectively (as individuals and organizations) to achieve goals, offer space for artists to exhibit their work, encourage discussion and engagement in locally relevant issues, and don’t be afraid to advocate.”
Fred Machetanz lithographic prints on display at the Anchorage Museum during the Museums Alaska conference, 2017.
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